You hear that hammering sound? That’s the sound of the final nails being driven into the coffin that holds NASCAR’s popularity. To say the past two months have been difficult for NASCAR is an understatement. Let’s recap:
-Denny Hamlin had his wins taken away from Darlington for failing multiple inspections. While his win was taken away from the season Cup standings toward the playoffs, it won’t vacate it in the record books, according to NASCAR.
-Two former winners of the Daytona 500 and Cup Championships are without rides in 2018 (Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch). These aren’t past their prime drivers like the Labontes and Waltrips who spent the last few years of their career hanging out in the back of the field every race, only making it in on past champ provisionals. These are two drivers who are both in the playoffs.
-An ambulance was parked near the entrance of pit road during the Richmond race, yet NASCAR officials kept the green light on to indicate that pit road was open. This resulted in Matt Kenseth rear-ending Clint Bowyer, taking him out of contention and nearly costing him a spot in the playoffs.
-With three laps to go in the Richmond race, the caution flag flew for Derrick Cope…who was 15 laps down and still out on the track. Martin Truex, who had nearly a 4-second lead, ended up wrecking on the restart and finishing 20th.
-Smithfield has left Richard Petty Motorsports, and Aric Almirola is out as their driver. Apparently, Richard Petty still thinks handshake deals are just as good as legally binding multi-million dollar contracts. And that, folks, is why RPM is a non-competing, one-car outfit.
-Danica Patrick has “retired.” I.e., sponsors are pulling out left and right and no one wants to sponsor a driver who has had great equipment and zero success on the track. She is also no longer a marketing darling. That ship has sailed.
And finally, speaking of sponsor dropouts…
-Target has decided to no longer sponsor Kyle Larson, who is second in the point standings and has 4 wins and 15 top tens on the season. In fact, Target is leaving NASCAR all together so that they can focus their sponsorship dollars on…soccer. Yes, NASCAR fans, this is what it has come to.
So what’s next? NASCAR is about to begin the playoffs, just as the football season has gotten underway, the MLB playoffs are about to start, and soccer is in full swing (which Target certainly thinks is more valuable). Will anyone watch? Does anyone even care anymore? NASCAR is headed into a lot of uncertainty, more than it’s ever known. There are, however, two certainties ahead of them if they continue at this pace: fewer sponsors, and fewer fans in the seats. And if massive change isn’t done and done soon, the next TV deal could be the largest drop off between deals we’ve ever seen. It could even be a future where NASCAR can only be seen on the same channel that broadcasts tractor pull competitions…in France.
But fear not, those who hold out that tiniest sliver of hope that NASCAR can be saved. I’m here to help! Here are five ideas that NASCAR desperately needs to implement to save itself. France family, pay attention!
1.) SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY: Get rid of these stupid “stages” during the race. You don’t see other sports doling out these participation-trophy-style awards. Redskins leading the NFC East halfway through the season? Let’s give them an extra W for their efforts! Yeah, right. The point system has become more and more convoluted, and the casual fan has no idea who really is winning. Instead of this clusterfuck that NASCAR has now, I propose this:
-50 points to the race winner, 45 for second, 40 for third, 30 for fourth, and one point down for each position after that. If there are 40 cars in the field, that means the last ten get nothing. That way it encourages drivers to compete from top to bottom.
-No more bonus points for leading at halfway, and no more lucky dog. Get back to how it was when it was a real sport. The faster you go, and longer you’re in the race, the better you do.
-Cut the “playoffs” to ten drivers with the highest point totals. After the first five races, the lowest five are eliminated. One driver each is eliminated over the final five races.
2.) CHANGE THE FINAL TEN RACES: The final ten races should be indicative of all that the NASCAR circuit has to offer. It should not be based on location (for example, kicking off the chase in Chicago because it’s a big city of people that don’t give a shit). I propose the following schedule:
Race 1: Darlington
Race 2: Talladega
Race 3: Michigan
Race 4: Bristol
Race 5: Charlotte
Race 6: New Hampshire
Race 7: Sonoma
Race 8: Atlanta
Race 9: Phoenix
Race 10: Las Vegas
3.) SHORTEN THE SEASON: NASCAR racing through the heart of football season and through the World Series is incredibly dumb. Shorten the season to a maximum of 30 races. If it can be less, that’s better, but no more than 30. Cut these races to start with: Auto Club, one of the Pocono races, Chicago, Homestead, Kansas, one of the Michigan races. They’re boring to watch and they can’t fill the stands. Have the season end by mid-October.
4.) EMBRACE THE TALENT WITH THE ATTITUDE: NASCAR should embrace driver attitudes. It makes the sport more exciting. NASCAR is a sport where the focus is on the individual drivers, not so much the teams. (You think Earnhardt fans suddenly started pulling for Jeff Gordon when Little E joined his team?) They crave the drama and the rivalries, and nothing better illustrates that fiery passion than when drivers are allowed to speak their mind and let their emotions get to them. This may lead to retaliation on the track, and maybe in the garage, but as long as it does not lead to over-the-top retaliation, like a car coming out 130 laps down only to wreck someone else, it should be welcomed. Basically, just don’t do what Cole Trickle did here:
This is very tricky territory, however. Brash drivers like Jimmy Spencer were fun to watch, but you didn’t see fans lining up to buy his merchandise or sponsors lining up to slap their logo on his car. What would benefit NASCAR the most is if a driver, or drivers, who could win AND be brash stepped up. Kyle Busch is certainly one, but he’s about the only one and he certainly can’t bring in ratings alone. What NASCAR really needs is for Jimmie Johnson to snap the next time he’s wrecked by, say, Austin Dillon, leading him to race to pit road to pimp smack Dillon’s cowboy hat off his head while screaming “THERE ARE NO COWBOYS IN LEWSIVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA, HOME SLICE!”
5.) JUST GET RID OF THE FRANCE FAMILY: That would basically solve 90% of the problem right there.
If NASCAR listens to me and starts to implement some radical changes, it could return to the glory days and recapture their core fan base.
If not? Well, there’s always soccer to look forward to in all its flopping glory.